Elementary lesson in the error behind police ouster

This Just In...

March 08, 2002|By Dan Rodricks

I THINK another teachable moment has arrived. Allow me to explain where Maj. Donald Healy erred so that my confused and angry white brothers and sisters on talk radio might understand it. (I know, it's a tough job, but someone's got to do it. As Rodney King said: "Can't we all just get along?")

Let's begin, shall we?

All the slower members of the class should take Major Healy's written order to his police officers -- "Every black male around this Bus Stop is to be stopped until subject is apprehended" -- and get out their Crayola crayons and color everything differently.

Boys and girls, I want you to imagine that we're in Baltimore County, not the city.

Imagine that a woman is attacked late at night by a man near a bus stop on, say, York Road in Lutherville.

Now, boys and girls, I want you to color the victim white and her attacker white.

Further -- and this is less important but let's do it anyway -- I want you to make the commander of the local police precinct black. OK?

Go ahead and colorize. I'll give you a minute.

Now, let's take the quote that ended Major Healy's career. You see where it says "black," boys and girls?

Well, go ahead and erase it and make it "white."

It now should read, "Every white male around this Bus Stop is to be stopped until subject is apprehended."

That's it. That's the whole exercise.

We're not going to add any other description to the profile of the suspect in this crime. We're not going to say, "Every white male with a tattoo on his neck," or, "Every white male with a nose ring and a big foam-rubber Dallas Cowboys hat." We're just going to order our officers to stop "every white male" who comes near that bus stop.

You see the problem now?

Not only is it a foolish idea, in terms of effective police work. It's also the kind of big-boot, police-state action that drives every freedom-loving, Constitution-embracing, radio-talk-show-calling American crazy.

It's the kind of thing that undercuts all efforts to build trust between the citizens of this city, the majority of whom are black, and the police. You can't be calling for roundups of "every black male," even in the hunt for the perp of a horrendous crime, and expect people already mistrustful of police to have faith in them, cooperate with them and believe them when they testify in trials.

Should Healy have been bounced as commander of the Northeastern District? Yes.

Should Healy have been forced -- if that's what happened -- to retire and leave the department after 29 years? No.

Healy should have been given the same treatment the city's housing commissioner got after he spouted off about gays while inebriated in a Fells Point bar -- special counseling and a second chance. I don't see how the city can afford to keep losing veteran police commanders, especially if there's hope for remediation. Given his contrition -- and the good things said about him by both black and white citizens before his infraction -- Healy sounded redeemable.

Instead, he's gone, apparently a political liability the mayor of Baltimore could not afford -- especially if Martin O'Malley is going to run for governor this year, and especially with Kathleen K. Townsend breathing down his back for support among black voters in Marylanders.

(After listening to Townsend's gobbledygook on this topic the other day, I don't know why O'Malley worries about her so much. In an interview about the Healy matter with WBAL Radio reporter Anne Kramer, Townsend said: "Racial profiling is bad police work. You have to be able to figure out who, what the problem is, who the problem can be. You don't just do a broad-boned search." Twice I distinctly heard "broad-boned," but Mark Miller, the Radio 11 news director, tells me she might have said, "broad band," which, of course, would have been so much clearer. Anyway, one televised debate with O'Malley, and Townsend's toast.)

That's pretty much our class in understanding this latest episode in race issues here in our part of the world, boys and girls.

But, before putting your crayons away, I want you to do a little more coloring. Let's color Nathaniel "McMouth" McFadden, the state senator from East Baltimore, a hypocrite. McMouth has been among those who were quick to condemn Healy's order as "racial profiling." He said, "Great!" when he heard Healy had resigned.

Evidently, McMouth thinks racial profiling by police is a bad thing, and that's good to hear.

But I'd like to remind the class that, two years ago, this same state senator (along with Sen. Clarence "Loan? What Loan?" Mitchell IV) went out of his way to sabotage a legislative remedy for racial profiling -- the "driving while black" phenomenon -- that was a priority of the city's delegation when it arrived in Annapolis for the 2000 session. McMouth and Mitchell did it to get back at Pete Rawlings, the delegate who sponsored the bill, for something petty and personal. Racial profiling might have been a serious and important issue to McMouth and Mitchell, but not as important as payback. (And who knew C4 paid back anything?)

I don't know what color hypocrisy is, but it's not pretty.

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